Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Khatami: "We Shall Only Think of Victory" in Iran

Iran's security forces have clamped down ferociously on large-scale demonstrations in the last couple days, so the opposition is now in a place of shifting direction. This morning, cleric Sayed Mohammed Khatami presented a new strategic plan for Iranian protesters to follow.

Khatami, president of Iran from 1997 to 2005 and current member of the Supreme Council, is perhaps the strongest voice for liberalization and reform in Iran. He has also been Mir-Hossein Mousavi's greatest supporter. Some of his family members were arrested recently and then released, sending a threat to all the leaders of the movement for change.

In his statement, Khatami points out, "We are no longer going to waste our energy [on large demonstrations]." He outlines how Iranians can move in the direction of "divide and conquer" through nonviolent means.

He asks all Iranians to go to their local bazaars (outdoor markets) and protest as a group there. There are some key differences from the group behavior of the large demonstrations: the protesters are not to carry signs, they are not to wear green, and they are encouraged to bring their children with them.

In other words, the protesters should bring no identifying markers that they are protesters when they enter the bazaar and meld into the shopping crowds, as if on a family outing. This should make identification of the protesters more difficult.

Khatami states, "We shall leave no marks or traces behind ourselves, not even the victory sign with our hands."

There is one more central strategy to be followed: the protesters are to buy nothing.

Khatami makes it clear that this is a political and economic event. "[E]very morning we shall protest towards the main bazaars of every single city in Iran. Should the revolutionary guards try to avoid the situation, the bazaar will be shut down. Should they don’t react to our protests, due to the mayhem caused by protesters, the bazaar will automatically shut down. Should they try to cut the phone lines around the country, yet again there will be a massive conflict within all the activities, resulting in the bazaar shutting down.

Theoretically, the methods of nonviolent conflict are simple to understand. In my post yesterday I listed 198 Nonviolent Methods for systemic change. You may have been overwhelmed with the quantity of actions available to a movement. There are so many ways to confront a tyrannical system! Organizers can also be overwhelmed. The difficult part is to select the right methods, at the right time, and with the right people.

We can use this list to understand a specific movement's approach to change. Khatami's strategy, for example, employs several elements from the list of 198:
  • #71 Consumers' boycott of goods. Khatami is now using the economy to place more pressure on the regime in power by bringing this movement into the realm of shop keepers. We'll see what their reaction is.
  • #121 Refusal of public support of the regime. This is an ongoing element of the Sea of Green movement and will play out in a variety of ways over the coming weeks and months.
  • #137 Refusal to disperse. The protesters have stood their ground and are finding new ways to confront the regime in public, even though the Supreme Leader has forbade them to do so.
  • #166 Mill-in. One of the primary purposes of Khatami's strategy is to continue a public presence. It is not a March (#38), but it is still visual. It spreads out the protesters, and therefore the Basiji (secret police) will also be spread out, lowering the risk for casualties. It also communicates to the government that the protesters are without fear and still going strong.
  • #172 Nonviolent obstruction (generally temporary). This type of protest could bring normal activity and economic transactions to a temporary hault. The act of protest in a location where normal, daily activity takes place will make this movement and its complaints more personal to more Iranians.

So, what are the effects of Khatami's strategic plan?
  1. It spreads out the protesting groups, making is much harder for officials to monitor, identify and target individuals for reprisal.
  2. There should be fewer casualties.
  3. Economic pressure should be felt by the Iranian society (and therefore by the government) via the chaos in the bazaars.
  4. Psychological pressure will be place back on the government.
  5. If successful, the protesters should feel an improvement in morale, which will lead to further struggle in a variety of forms.
Many mainstream media commentators have said that the decreased protester involvement in the last couple of days is due to fear. They are not aware that Khatami and the opposition are beginning to shift gears - something that is always necessary for success.

Some may ask, "How long will this take?" The correct response: "As long as it takes."

As Khatami exhorted, "We shall only think of Victory!"

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